Archuleta County – The Pagosa Springs SUN The most trusted source for news and information about Pagosa Springs, Colorado. Thu, 30 Jul 2020 19:08:18 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Archuleta County – The Pagosa Springs SUN 32 32 Public Meetings Thu, 30 Jul 2020 21:00:44 +0000 The following meetings are subject to change.

Thursday, July 30

Pagosa Springs Town Council special meeting. 5 p.m. See town website for participation information.

Friday, July 31

Pagosa Springs Town Council work session. 8 a.m. See town website for participation information.

Monday, Aug. 3

Archuleta County Board of Equalization petition hearings. 9 a.m. Archuleta County administration building, commissioners’ meeting room, 398 Lewis St. Possible Zoom meeting.

Pagosa Peak Open School Board of Directors regular meeting. 5 p.m., 7 Parelli Way.

Tuesday, Aug. 4

Archuleta County Board of County Commissioners work session. 8:30 a.m. Call 264-8300 one to two days before the meeting to obtain the login information.

Archuleta County Board of County Commissioners regular meeting. 1:30 p.m. Call 264-8300 one to two days before the meeting to obtain the login information.

Pagosa Springs Town Council meeting. 5 p.m. See town website for participation information.

Pagosa Springs Sanitation General Improvement District meeting. 5 p.m. See town website for participation information.

Thursday, Aug. 6

Town of Pagosa Springs Combined Parks and Recreation Advisory Board meeting. 5:30 p.m. See town website for participation information.

Public meeting information should be sent to with “Public Meeting” in the subject line. The deadline is noon Monday each week prior to publication for that week’s issue.

Official election results announced for June 30 primary Thu, 30 Jul 2020 21:00:06 +0000 By John Finefrock
Staff Writer

The official election results have been announced for the June 30 primary election in Archuleta County.

The full version of this story is available in the print edition and e-edition of the Pagosa Springs SUN. Subscribe today by calling (970)264-2100 or click here.

Archuleta County seeing increase in severity among COVID-19 cases Thu, 30 Jul 2020 10:58:10 +0000

Map courtesy Gov. Jared Polis’ office
On Tuesday, Gov. Jared Polis presented a map showing the two-week incidence rate per 100,000 of population for Colorado’s counties, which revealed Archuleta County is in the highest category.

By Randi Pierce
Staff Writer

“There’s no doubt that increased testing means increased cases, but we’re seeing increased sick people with COVID, so it is not just the increased testing,” Pagosa Springs Medical Center (PSMC) CEO Dr. Rhonda Webb told the board of the Upper San Juan Health Service District (USJHSD) Tuesday evening.

That board oversees PSMC’s operations.

Earlier in the day Tuesday, Gov. Jared Polis presented a map visualizing two-week incidence rates for Colorado’s counties, with that map showing Archuleta County in the highest category — or more than 100 infections per 100,000 people (which helps adjust for population) — of new confirmed positive cases.

“And red is kind of where alarm bells should be ringing the most,” he said, adding later, “And, frankly, every county that’s seen case growth needs to take prompt and bold action to reverse that.”

Polis later noted that 15 counties in the state had been notified that if they cannot slow the trend of new cases within two weeks, their variances would be taken away.

Polis added the state is also watching those counties with high incidence rates that do not have variances — the category Archuleta County falls into. 

“We want to work with counties in this critical window to get them strong and back on track,” he said.

Webb told the USJHSD board it is unclear if Archuleta County will have to revert to an earlier Safer at Home phase if it continues to be red, with PSMC Chief Administrative Officer Ann Bruzzese indicating it was implied.

Clarification from Polis’ office and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment was not available by press time Wednesday.

“This message that came today reflects what we’re seeing here in the hospital,” Webb said. “We are seeing an increase in symptomatic and sick patients, so we are transferring patients out who are sick, quite sick, to higher levels of care.”

Later in the meeting, Chief Nursing Officer/Chief Operating Officer Kathee Douglas noted that PSMC has had around seven hospitalized patients who were either confirmed COVID-19 positives or presumed positives who were discharged prior to their test results coming back.

She added that PSMC transferred three people to a higher level of care Tuesday and more the previous day.

“That is concerning to us,” she said. “That has not been the trend.”

She noted that PSMC’s hospitalizations were not lengthy stays and those patients were not critically ill.

“In the last few days, we’ve seen a lot of critical illness,” she said.

Webb noted that, because of the increase in cases, PSMC has started moving some employees back to working from home.

She also stated that PSMC has had employees who do not have contact with patients who have tested positive, noting that PSMC employees are rigorously screened and tested.

PSMC remains open and safe, she noted.

Tracking community activity

As part of its efforts, San Juan Basin Public Health (SJBPH) is using phone data to track what is going on in the communities it covers.

SJBPH Director of Communications Claire Ninde wrote in an email to The SUN Wednesday that, as of the most recent data, 23 percent of Archuleta County’s activity was of Archuleta County origin.

Another 29 percent was of Texas origin, she noted.

“Not all of the 77% of activity that is non-Archuleta County are tourists – some are non-resident workers, accessing services, seeking medical care, etc.,” she wrote.

COVID-19 case counts
The following information was current as of press time. 
Archuleta County
Residents: 34
Residents recovered: 8
Nonresidents: 30
La Plata County: 192
Conejos County: 21
Rio Grande County: 87
Mineral County: 18
Hinsdale County: 3
San Juan County, N.M.: 2,946
Rio Arriba County, N.M.: 281
Jicarilla Apache Nation: 207

New cell tower on Bastille under construction Wed, 29 Jul 2020 11:00:17 +0000 By John Finefrock
Staff Writer

An AT&T cellphone tower is currently under construction on Bastille Drive, according to people involved with the project.

Late last year, the Archuleta County Board of County Commissioners approved a Board Conditional Use Permit for the new tower construction.

Justin Causey, land use planner for Md7, a consulting firm that handles everything up until construction for cellphone towers and was contracted for the beginning part of this project, told The SUN in November 2019 that he thought that construction on the tower would start in January or February and take about a month to complete.

On May 5, Causey provided an update to The SUN.

“AT&T has had some trouble with the power coordination through the State, but everything has been solved and the project is moving forward,” Causey wrote.

On Tuesday, Causey provided an additional update and wrote, “Just got an update form [sic] the construction team. The construction has already begun and the tower should start going up in the next few weeks.”

Asked how long construction will take, Causey replied, “Most likely will be on air in a couple months. This is very dependent on optimization and other factors that go into the final construction.”

According to the application submitted to the county, the tower is proposed to be 90 feet tall, and the Archuleta County Board of County Commissioners granted a variance from the normal commercial zone height limit of 40 feet above grade.

Causey noted that former Archuleta County Planning Manager John Shepard suggested a higher tower with co-location opportunities to reduce the total number of towers in the county.

In addition to boosting AT&T cell coverage in the area (other cell providers have the option to co-locate equipment on the tower), it will also house equipment for the FirstNet Emergency Responders Network, a first for Archuleta County.

Causey explained to The SUN late last year that the FirstNet equipment allows emergency first responders to communicate on an entirely separate bandwidth from what regular cellphones use, so communication is perpetually intact for emergency personnel, even if the tower is bogged down with a high call volume.

“The FCC [Federal Communications Commission] released this bandwidth that only emergency responders can operate on. So, the equipment that we put up for FirstNet is solely going to be used by first responders,” Causey said. “They have a separate bandwidth that only first responders would have the equipment to operate within that, so it doesn’t have to fight for that coverage … They’ll have their own network that they’re operating on.”

AT&T was awarded the multi-billion dollar contract to build and maintain FirstNet in 2017 and is spending about $40 billion on the project.

FirstNet was proposed by the federal 911 Commission over a decade ago, following first responder communication failures after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

Archuleta County Undersheriff Derek Woodman highlighted some of the other benefits of FirstNet in a phone call last year.

“If we have an event that there is no cell coverage, say we have a big fire in an isolated area and we need cell coverage up there, they are mandated to provide, within 14 hours of the call, provide a cell tower on wheels, a portable cell tower … That’s part of the federal mandate and they have to abide by it,” explained Woodman.

Woodman also explained that a Push-To-Talk feature of FirstNet allows emergency personnel to communicate even with limited to no cellphone coverage.

“It acts more like a walkie-talkie than it does a cellphone,” Causey said of Push-To-Talk in a phone call, noting that it doesn’t need sustained coverage to keep a communication channel open.

The AT&T tower is expected to be operational in the upcoming months.

County waiting on funding to repair part of Trujillo Road Wed, 29 Jul 2020 11:00:04 +0000

Photos courtesy Archuleta County
The San Juan River is causing County Road 500 to “slough off” into the river. Two photos (top) depict the damage in December 2019 and (bottom) the damage in June 2020.

By John Finefrock
Staff Writer

The San Juan River is causing part of County Road 500 (Trujillo Road) to “slough off,” according to Archuleta County Public Works Director Bob Perry.

The damage is a few miles from where County Road 500 intersects with Colo. 151.

In a presentation to the county commissioners on July 14, Perry explained that the damage was first noticed around April 2019, when the “erosion” area was still about 80 feet from the edge of the road.

He noted that after meeting with a few government agencies about the repairs, including the Army Corps of Engineers, the “finger in the wind estimate” was about $2 million to $3 million, which has proven to be accurate, and which the county is still working to secure funding for.

County Administrator Scott Wall told The SUN earlier this year that a retaining wall to support the hillside would cost about $1 million, noting that the Department of Local Affairs may have grants to help pay for parts of the project.

Perry estimated an additional $1 million to reroute the San Juan River so it no longer erodes the hillside.

“If there’s anything we can do to help expedite this, I think we should,” Commissioner Ron Maez said on July 14. “And maybe we could send a letter of how urgent or how important this road is before we lose it and then we spend another year deciding that — in confirming the fact that we already lost the road.”

“It’s just a matter of getting the funding mechanism moving forward,” Perry said. “I think they’re all set and ready to go, so I don’t know if this is gonna take a whole lot. Every time I get optimistic about what some of these agencies can do in a short time I find out that they can’t put their socks on without three permits.”

In a phone call Wednesday, Maez explained the county is waiting on various government agencies to approve funding for the repair.

He stated that anything dealing with rerouting a river, as this project does, tends to take an extended amount of time to get approval.

Wall confirmed Wednesday that even with the needed repairs, County Road 500, even around the damaged area, is still accessible and passable to vehicles.

Archuleta County Department of Human Services honored with C-Stat award for third year in a row Mon, 27 Jul 2020 11:00:14 +0000

Photo courtesy Archuleta County
Staff from the Archuleta County Department of Human Services (ACDHS) pose with the Archuleta County Commissioners after receiving a C-Stat Distinguished Performance Award. ACDHS has received the honor for three consecutive years.

By John Finefrock
Staff Writer

The Colorado Department of Human Services (CDHS) recognized the Archuleta County Department of Human Services (ACDHS) for C-Stat Distinguished Performance for the third consecutive year.

In an email to The SUN, Matthew Dodson, director of ACDHS, shared the statement he made to his staff regarding the award.

“Being an Agent of Change is often a tough badge to bear. It is rare that those we serve say ‘thank you’ or express their gratitude directly as many of them seeking our support are experiencing a hardship or a difficult time in their life. Your work sometimes goes unnoticed. But the impact? Oh, the impact is very measurable!

“You keep children, families and adults moving along a path of being stable, safer, healthier, and thriving while empowering them and affecting real change.

“Today we are here to celebrate your individual and collective success. You truly are the A-TEAM and I am inspired by all you do on behalf of others. 

“I am proud to ‘strain in the mud and the muck to move things forward’ with all of you and know the work you do is hard. 

“Our county is a better place because of you.”

“C-Stat is a performance management tool that allows CDHS to better focus on and improve performance outcomes that enhance people’s lives. The Distinguished Performance Award recognizes counties that are timely, safe and accurate in work and meeting goals. Counties that meet their goals are more likely to be meeting the needs of individuals and families in their community, and more likely to have higher completion rates of applications,” a press release from CDHS notes.

“… the A-TEAM met or exceeded performance measured across the board and more importantly means that our service delivery met the needs of citizens and our community,” Dodson’s statement reads. “Not just numbers, people!!!! And, a reflection of our commitment to supporting others with a hand up.”

County hiring freeze lifted Thu, 23 Jul 2020 21:00:33 +0000 By John Finefrock
Staff Writer

At their regular meeting Tuesday, the Archuleta County commissioners lifted the county hiring freeze that had been in place since April.

The full version of this story is available in the print edition and e-edition of the Pagosa Springs SUN. Subscribe today by calling (970)264-2100 or click here.

Public Meetings Thu, 23 Jul 2020 21:00:26 +0000 The following meetings are subject to change.

Thursday, July 23

Pagosa Springs Urban Renewal Authority meeting. 5 p.m. See town website for participation information.

Pagosa Springs Town Council meeting. 5 p.m. See town website for participation information.

Tuesday, July 28

Archuleta County Board of County Commissioners work session. 8:30 a.m. Call 264-8300 one to two days before the meeting to obtain the login information.

Upper San Juan Health Service District regular board meeting. 5:30 p.m. Join Zoom meeting:, meeting ID: 969 0492 6293 Phone in using: (346) 248-7799. 

Town Planning Commission, Board of Adjustments and Design Review Board work session. 5:30 p.m. See town website for participation information. 

Friday, July 31

Pagosa Springs Town Council work session. 5 p.m. See town website for participation information.

Monday, Aug. 3

Pagosa Peak Open School Board of Directors regular meeting. 5 p.m., 7 Parelli Way.

Public meeting information should be sent to with “Public Meeting” in the subject line. The deadline is noon Monday each week prior to publication for that week’s issue.

Jail will be understaffed when it opens Thu, 23 Jul 2020 11:00:03 +0000

SUN photo/Randi Pierce
Above: The county’s new 54-bed jail is nearly finished and set to open around September. Archuleta County inmates are currently being housed at the La Plata County Jail in Durango. Left: The Archuleta County sheriff, undersheriff and other elected county officials discuss staffing numbers for the county’s new jail at the county commissioners’ work session on Tuesday morning.

By John Finefrock
Staff Writer

The county’s new jail will be understaffed when it opens around September, according to the Archuleta County Sheriff’s Office (ACSO).

The full version of this story is available in the print edition and e-edition of the Pagosa Springs SUN. Subscribe today by calling (970)264-2100 or click here.

SUN photo/John Finefrock

COVID-19 update: Seven new cases reported in single day Thu, 23 Jul 2020 10:59:46 +0000 By Randi Pierce
Staff Writer

As of noon Wednesday, Archuleta County had 25 total positive cases of COVID-19 among residents, with eight cases reported as recovered by San Juan Basin Public Health (SJBPH).

Archuleta County had eight cases from April 17 to June 29, with cases tripling since. Seven new cases were posted on SJBPH’s data dashboard for Archuleta County Wednesday, bringing the count to 25 cases among residents.

From Tuesday to Wednesday, SJBPH reported 19 new total cases on its dashboard between both counties it serves: six for Archuleta County, 11 for La Plata County, and a new nonresident positive in each Archuleta and La Plata counties.

Wednesday’s update revealed 25 nonresidents who have tested positive in Archuleta County, though the website acknowledges that figure may not include all the nonresidents positives tested in Archuleta County.

SJBPH’s figure, according to the agency’s website, “includes cases who were visiting from another country, state or county in Colorado. This will include any cases that are reported to SJBPH and were tracked or investigated by the team. This will not include cases who live in La Plata county but sought medical care in Archuleta.”

Regional cumulative case counts

As of noon on Wednesday, La Plata County was reported as having 179 cases (with two deaths among cases). As of 4 p.m. Tuesday, Conejos County was reported as having 21, Rio Grande County logged 84 (with two deaths), Mineral County had 17 and Hinsdale County was listed as having three.

Neighboring and near Archuleta County to the south, Rio Arriba County, N.M., listed 251 cases (with 44 recovered and one death), and San Juan County, N.M., listed 2,861 cases (with 1,625 recovered and 176 deaths) as of Tuesday afternoon.

The Jicarilla Apache Nation, which largely falls within Rio Arriba County, had announced 177 cases as of 3 p.m. July 21, with 101 recovered and two deaths.

Due to community spread within the Jicarilla Apache Nation, the nation announced that a stay-at-home order will be in effect from 9 p.m. July 26 through 5 a.m. on Aug. 10.

Mask order in effect, last call changed

Following an executive order by Gov. Jared Polis on July 16, Colorado is now under a mandatory mask order.

Per the executive order, anyone in Colorado older than 10 years old must wear a face covering over their nose and mouth when entering or moving within any public indoor space. 

“Wearing a mask is an easy and highly effective way to significantly reduce the spread of COVID-19. The more we wear masks, the safer we will be and the stronger our economy will grow,” Polis said while announcing the executive order. “Unfortunately, this pandemic is far from over, cases are up, and we have to find a way to live sustainably while protecting ourselves and those around us. Masks are the ticket to the Colorado we love and a critical part of supporting Colorado’s economy and prosperity. The best way to support Colorado workers and businesses right now is to wear a mask. I’ve said this from the beginning, and it’s still true today: Together, we will get through this.”

Per the state, “A public indoor space is defined as any enclosed indoor area that is publicly or privately owned, managed or operated to which individuals have access by right or by invitation, expressed or implied, and that is accessible to the public, serves as a place of employment, or is an entity providing services.”

The definition of public indoor space does not mean a person’s residence, hotel room or residential room for students at an educational facility, the state notes.

Individuals 10 years old and younger, and those who cannot medically tolerate a face covering, are exempt from the order. 

On Tuesday, Polis announced another change across the state due to coronavirus: For the next 30 days, the last call for alcohol will be at 10 p.m. instead of 2 a.m.

Exempted activities

According to the state, individuals performing the following activities are also exempt from the requirements of the executive order requiring face coverings while the activity is being performed:

• Individuals who are hearing impaired or otherwise disabled or who are communicating with someone who is hearing impaired or otherwise disabled and where the ability to see the mouth is essential to communication;

• Individuals who are seated at a food service establishment;

• Individuals who are exercising alone or with others from the individual’s household and a face covering would interfere with the activity;

• Individuals who are receiving a personal service where the temporary removal of the face covering is necessary to perform the service;

• Individuals who enter a business or receive services and are asked to temporarily remove a face covering for identification purposes;

• Individuals who are actively engaged in a public safety role such as law enforcement, firefighters, or emergency medical personnel;

• Individuals who are officiating at a religious service; or

• Individuals who are giving a speech for broadcast or an audience.

“To protect workers, customers, and the community, no business serving the public in a Public Indoor Space may provide service to a customer or allow a customer to enter or move within that Public Indoor Space, unless the customer is wearing a face covering,” a press release states.

During the same press conference, Polis noted that the state would take a two-week pause on issuing any new variances to counties, and noted that counties that had previously certified for Protect Our Neighbors could choose to become exempt from the order.

Archuleta County remains under Safer at Home and in the Vast, Great Outdoors. 

What if you don’t wear a mask?

The executive order states, “Any individual who knowingly enters or remains in a Public Indoor Space in violation of the terms of this Executive Order may be subject to civil or criminal penalties, including but not limited to prosecution for trespass.”

According to the state’s website, if you refuse to wear a mask as required in the executive order, you are violating a Colorado law and are subject to civil or criminal penalties.

If you try to enter a store without a mask, you may be prosecuted for trespassing, it notes.

Pagosa Springs Town Manager Andrea Phillips noted in an email to The SUN that the town, including Pagosa Springs Police Department (PSPD), will enforce the order and will be responding to complaints.

Phillips reported that the town is reminding people of the mandate through ads in local media, and on digital message boards at each end of town, and the Pagosa Springs Area Chamber of Commerce is also sharing the messages, as well as the tourism department.

“Per the order, businesses are required to refuse entry to anyone 11 yrs and older not wearing a face covering (with medical exemption considered of course). If the business is not able to get the person to comply with the Governor’s order, and can’t get them to leave, the business owner can file a complaint with PD and request the offender be removed from the business. Our Police Dept can charge them with trespassing,” she explained.

She further clarified that PSPD officers will not be enforcing the wearing of masks within businesses, but will respond to businesses.

“It is the business owner’s responsibility. If their patrons won’t wear it and refuse to leave, then PD can respond to a request for a trespass charge,” she wrote.

Similarly, Archuleta County Sheriff Rich Valdez noted that while mask calls will not be a high priority, his department will respond to trespass and disorderly conduct calls like normal.

“We want people to respect each other’s decision to wear a mask or not wear a mask,” Valdez said, noting that his deputies will respond and provide support, but that enforcing mask-wearing comes with challenges, including his office’s minimal staffing.

Valdez further urged people to think before getting into an altercation over a mask that could take resources away from other emergencies.